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Reds title hopes could hinge on defence

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James Mortimer     07 May 2012     Getty Images

The return of defensive linchpin Anthony Faingaa was a pivotal factor in the Reds impressive showing against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium, becoming the first team since the 2000 vintage of the Brumbies to hold the seven-time champions try-less at home.

Offensively the Reds aren’t setting the competition alight, sitting tenth overall in terms of try scoring potency, while only the Lions have accumulated less points overall after week eleven.

Coach Ewen McKenzie said pre-season he knew that the Reds would be heavily targeted this year as defending champions, while early in the campaign he lamented ‘negative’ tactics as opponents based their game solely around shutting down the Queenslanders expansive approach.

As the season has progressed, the Reds have adapted, a key part of their success last year, and it seems that they have had a quantum shift in their approach, working hard to close down the Crusaders – a strategy that almost paid the ultimate dividend.

Faingaa, a key component in the Reds shutting down the vaunted attack of the Crusaders in last season’s decider, could be a player more valuable to the champion’s set up than Quade Cooper.

The Wallabies first five-eighth could potentially return against the Chiefs, after he was sighted running freely at Reds training, but McKenzie said there would be no timetable set on his enigmatic general’s return.

The other plus for the Reds has been the upward track of their forward pack, who hadn’t performed with the same intensity that allowed their front eight to surprisingly dominate most sides they played in 2011.

Captain James Horwill had arguably his best game of the season against the Crusaders, while Australian Under-20 captain Liam Gill was in devastating form.

While the Reds breakdown efforts last season were engineered to produce lightning fast ball to the likes of Cooper and Will Genia, against the Blues and Crusaders the champions were more content to slow down their rival’s ball clearance from the ruck.

If indeed there is a dominant defensive mindset from the Reds as the season comes into the business end, then their clash this weekend against the Chiefs will be fascinating, as the top-of-the-table visitors have a marvellous defensive system of their own.

So far most teams have highlighted Sonny Bill Williams as the key attacking threat from the Chiefs, and it probably won’t be any different for Queensland, but the Reds were one of the few sides last season that were able to contain the off-loading midfielder.